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Olympus E-510 Digital SLR Review

Like television, the Olympus E-510 has the chance to look at things Live. Unlike television, it doesn't get boring on a bank holiday. Matt Grayson takes a look at the new version of the E-500.

|  Olympus E-510 in Digital SLRs
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The E-510 is a 10Mp Digital SLR aimed at the keen enthusiast or the first time SLR user with a larger budget. It has easy to use options coupled with some advanced features.

Olympus E-510 front view Olympus E-510 Specification

  • Sensor: Live MOS - 10Mp
  • Image Size: 3648 x 2736
  • Lens: Olympus Zuiko Digital 4/3rds
  • Focus: TTL Auto/Manual
  • Exposure: Program/AP/SP/M/S
  • Metering : Digital ESP, 49 Zone Multi-pattern, CW/S/High-light/Shadow
  • Monitor: 2.5in Hyper Crystal LCD
  • Other Features: Live View, Image Stabilised: CCD shift
  • Movie Mode: No
  • Storage: CompactFlash/Microdrive/xD Cards
  • Batteries: Li-Ion Pack
  • AC Adaptor: Optional
  • Video Output: Yes
  • Size/Weight: 136x91.5x56mm - 460g
  • Transfer: USB 2.0

A level up from the entry level E-410, the E-510 with 10Mp, 3fps and dust reduction should technically be a rival to the Canon EOS 30D which has 8Mp, 5fps and a tougher magnesium body, the Pentax K10D with similar resolution, 3fps and dust reduction and the Nikon D80 with 10Mp, 3fps and 3D matrix metering. All are comparable, the Pentax being the closest in specification, but the Canon has the tougher build and Nikon has the exclusive metering feature.

Olympus E-510 Modes and features
Upgraded from the E-500, the Olympus E-510 has a larger resolution, 3fps, Live MOS sensor replacing the old CCD, Image stabiliser, the Olympus Live preview which only lasts a few seconds, Dust reduction which interests me as they don't say dust removal, and a faster Trupic III turbo processor.

Olympus E-510 top view Looking at the Olympus E-510, it is a nice compact size with lots of buttons which makes it look more professional than it really is, and is surprisingly heavier than its predecessor. The top of the camera has the shutter release in the usual place with the exposure compensation button sat just behind. This button doubles up as the Aperture button when in manual mode. The Mode dial is sat atop the power switch and contains the usual suspects of Auto, Program, Shutter priority, Aperture priority and Manual along with the programmed modes of Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Night portrait and Scene selection to choose from the 20 different scenes available. If this camera were bigger, only the presence of these programmed modes gives away the entry level classification. The movable dial in the corner is for adjusting the aperture in Aperture priority, the shutter speed in Shutter priority or Manual modes and will also move the selections when in menu modes. To the left of the built in flash and dedicated hotshoe are the flash options, which can only be used when the flash is up, and the drive button for continuous shooting, self timer or remote release options. The subway sign to the right is the film plane icon. The back of the camera is dominated by the large screen under the viewfinder and the left of the screen has the Playback button with the Delete button just under. The Menu and Info buttons join them to complete the left side of the camera.

The right of the screen has more buttons available. The top right of the back where the thumb lies has the Fn (function) button which can be altered in the Menu. This button can be used to show the depth-of-field preview using the Live View, which flashes on screen for two seconds before going off again. The focus button for manual choice of the focus points sits next to the Fn button for quick access.

The Image stabilizer button is designated by IS and there are three options of Off, IS 1 and IS 2. IS 1 is two-dimensional and is the full stabilising feature and IS 2 is one-dimensional and is Olympus E-510 side view suitable for panning images as it disables the horizontal stabiliser and is a very useful addition. The display button also allows access to the Live view but on a more permanent basis. However, the focus still has to be locked and the focus will not track even in continuous focus mode.

The navigation pad has a number of functions. The arrows are not just for navigation in the menu, but also adjust the White balance, Autofocus options, ISO ratings and metering zones. The OK button will access the quick options on the screen when in shooting mode and then the arrows can be used to navigate. The dual card slot is situated on the right side of the camera for taking Compactflash, the nearly obsolete Microdrive and Olympus' own xD picture card. One thing about the menu is that the navigation arrows are used to go up, down, left and right and this works fine. When an option has been chosen, say autofocus modes for instance, the up and down seem to stop working and the options have be scrolled through left or right. Even with multiple levels of options and I find this very annoying with no idea why it happens.

Internally, Olympus are one of the few manufacturers to embrace the four thirds system meaning that the sensor is smaller than the usual sensors found in digital SLRs. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage as the smaller sensor means greater depth of field and smaller, more compact cameras and lenses. However, the downside is that smaller sensors can tend to have higher noise at high ISO ratings and of course, though the system is standard only a select few companies manufacture the lenses and bodies. Indeed, Olympus are so far the only company to really champion the format but others are due to start producing compatible lenses and bodies soon. The lenses have famously been built from the ground up, meaning that they are designed with the four thirds system in mind. Like a necromancer, Olympus have raised the Zuiko lens system from the dead and they have always been well known for the excellent optical quality. The digital lenses have been built with a telecentric design so that light hits the sensor perpendicular to the sensor and therefore should give brighter corners and better off centre resolution.

Olympus E-510 rear view Olympus E-510 Build and handling
Slightly bigger than its brother the E-410 and has the addition of a grip which is always a useful thing. The rubber coating on the grip and the thumb plate ensure that the camera doesn't slip out of your hand. The camera is not heavy and doesn't feel like a great lump and for the market it is aimed at, it shouldn't anyway. The camera is a little right side heavy which is where the card and battery are both located and this could get annoying, but it is not so heavy that it will always be at the forefront of your mind.

Olympus E-510 Flash options
The built in flash works to an above average Guide number 12 and also has Auto, Red-eye reduction, Slow synch, Slow synchronization with second curtain, Fill-in, Slow synchronization with red-eye reduction, Off and the Flash compensation works to +/- 2EV in one third EV steps.

A hotshoe is also available for external flash, but there is no sync socket for studio lighting.

Olympus E-510 Performance
Switching on the Olympus E-510 activates the Supersonic Wave filter to rid the sensor of any dust that may have accumulated whilst idle. The startup is slow, just over a second by my timing, which is not very fast by the standards of the DSLRs that the camera is taking on. Focusing is relatively slow, but not something that could put you off and if it cannot focus, it just gives up. The Olympus E-510 has a distinct inability to focus on hair. Even my immaculately feathered and textured locks couldn't tease it into focus. This is certainly a little unusual and doesn't bode well for the average hair photographer. The Olympus E-510 has five metering options which are ESP metering, Center weighted and three types of Spot metering. Metering tends to compensate for the sky meaning that the ground can become under exposed.

Taking a photograph gives a louder noise than other SLRs in this classification and gives a distinct feeling of nostalgia with the old manual film SLRs. The camera will preview the image for a few seconds before bringing the quick access screen back on. The preview can be cancelled by half depressing the exposure button. If you decide you want to take a picture in Live view mode, the Fn button can be pressed to enable it for a few seconds or the display button for a permanent Live view until the picture is taken. No other actions can be performed whilst in Live view, including focusing. This must all be done before entering, however, the feature is good for shooting over the heads of people or at low angles as long as you can still see the screen and as long as nothing is moving or the exposure and focus could be out. The Live view mode is started with the satisfying thunk of the mirror flipping up to let the image burn direct to the sensor.

In SHQ, which the highest JPEG quality, the camera managed a total of 27 images in the 10 second test with the 3fps rate running consistent until around 20 frames had been taken then it seemed to slow down. The same test in RAW fired off 22 images in 10 seconds.

Olympus E-510 colourchart
The colourchart gave good results.

Olympus E-510 Macro image
The Macro facility gave good colour in the flower.

Olympus E-510 wide angle
Despite the 14mm lens, four thirds pushes it to 28mm in 35mm terms.

Olympus E-510 zoom image
This means that 150mm means 300mm though, which is a result.

Olympus E-510 lock image
The lock gave balanced results with good detail.

Olympus E-510 overexposed
The same image overexposed shows no fringing on the building roof.

Olympus E-510 Portrait mode
Very slight contrast is added to the portrait mode with a little boost in Red.

Olympus E-510 aperture priority
The Aperture priority shot shows a more neutral coloured image.

Olympus E-510 Panning shot
The Image stabiliser kept the car sharp.


Olympus E-510 Noise test
As mentioned previously, the four thirds system has a smaller sensor which can generate more noise at higher ISO ratings. The ISO100 image gave promising results with a nice even grey and no noise evident in the image and great detail in the flower. The ISO200 image also gave good results as did ISO400 and I am failing to see all this noise that is said to be showing from ISO400 onwards in other reports. ISO800 shows a little paling in the petals and the noise is starting to show with definition in the low key areas. The paling of the flower has continued and strong noise is showing on both black and grey. A lot of definition is still shown in the petals. This is an excellent results given the evidence put against the sensor. I think the Turbo processor must have played a part in it as it is designed to reduce noise and it obviously increases the quality of the image more than the sensor can deteriorate it.

The ISO100 test.
The ISO100 test.

The ISO200 test.
The ISO200 test.

The ISO400 test
The ISO400 test.

The ISO800 test.
The ISO800 test.

The ISO1600 test.
The ISO1600 test.




Olympus E-510 Verdict
The Olympus E-510 is a very capable camera. I enjoyed using it and it gave good results despite the weather. The build quality is good and it handles well. The Image stabiliser is effective and the dust reduction seems to work well as the images produced are clean with the Zuiko lenses ensuring sharpness. The Turbo III processor has ensured that noise remains at a minimium as much as possible and the noise test was a great surprise.

For the keen photographer on a reasonable budget, the E-510 will suit. The downside is the lack of availablility for accessories such as lenses. So far Olympus have produced their own and all are very good, but not as many companies indulge in the four thirds system so more lenses are readily available for other manufacturers.

Olympus E-510 Plus points
Excellent control of noise
No aberration when overexposed
Image stabiliser works a treat

Olympus E-510 Minus points
Live view not as useful as claimed
Seems unable to focus on hair
Navigating the menu is annoying





The Olympus E-510 costs around £699 for the twin lens kit and is available from the ePHOTOzine shop here.


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Photographs taken using the Olympus E-510

VerbascumThe calm before Half TermIndian LangurSalviaPeaceful Autumn at Booby's Bay"Is it still raining?"...Thawr's Saturday ShadowsLate PoppyPlumbago - 2TornadoThawrBee on the HeleniumOther Boats on the BaySalvia"Who's taken my toothpaste?"

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If you look on Ebay you can get the twin lens kit half the UK price.
StrayCat 16 19.1k 3 Canada
Matt, I wonder if the slow start-up time is due to the SSWF doing its thing. One could always study the manual whilst waiting.
You can disable the SSWF at start-up in the menu and this makes for a faster start - there shouldn't be a problem unless you have changed a lens since last use and you can run the filter at will when you have a break in the action. I have to say that start-up time is not an issue that greatly bothers me, I'm much more interested in colour and sharpness of image.


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